Georgia Winstone-Cooper reviews Emily Laurens’ new live performance animation series Dream a Little Dream for Me commissioned by National Theatre Wales, which offers dramatic reproductions of dreams submitted by the public during the lockdown.
Bizarre, vivid dreams have become an odd side-effect of our locked-down society. Many have reported an increase in strange dreams since the lockdown began and according to the Guardian, Google searches for “weird dreams” have doubled since the same period last year. According to psychologist Philippa Perry, the increase in vivid dreams could be due to the new, and often overwhelming, feelings and emotions people are experiencing in response to the pandemic, as dreams are a way of processing what we go through in our waking hours. Or perhaps people are simply remembering their dreams more; whilst few remember all of their dreams, everybody still experiences dreaming during the night. The science aside, one thing that can be agreed upon is that dreams are weird, disconcerting, and, more often than not, completely ridiculous and, aside from the odd nightmare, very funny. It is apt, then, that Emily Laurens’ short piece for National Theatre Wales, offers the first in a series of reproductions of dreams submitted by the public. The piece was presented on a miniature stage and told with the use of puppets and improvised music before a hand-painted set made entirely of the card. Lockdown and self-isolation have caused a massive surge in creativity as people seek to find ways to pass the time. But, this immense creativity and innovation have been needed for many artists and creatives to retain some kind of platform for their work. Necessity is often said to be “the mother of invention” and so it is also the mother of creativity. Laurens has taken a unique experience and mental response to these strange times and converted abstract imaginings into a unique medium.
The word “puppet” will perhaps evoke images of hand or finger puppets; perhaps Avenue Q and the Muppets are the first things that spring to mind. Laurens’ puppets are, charmingly, hand-drawn, attached to sticks; this may sound rudimentary, but the images Laurens produces are beautiful. They even involve the mechanics for the primary puppet to wave an arm. The miniature set is brightly coloured, almost amateurish, with its bold palette and brush strokes in sharp contrast to the delicately painted, pastel-coloured elegant main puppet.
It’s silly and charming whilst still retaining an eerie sense, a lack of dialogue serving as a constant reminder that it exists as a response to a global pandemic. Dreams often include aspects of our daily lives that are mixed up and messed about, and the impressively improvised music which accompanies the puppetry adds to this. The use of a violin to simulate the sound of a police siren creates a sense of something familiar yet also “not quite right”.
The scene which perhaps most appropriately captures the current mood of people’s attempts, and failures, to muddle through and retain normality is at the start of the piece, as the dreamer attempts to count sheep in order to sleep and manages “One sheep…two sheep…six sheep (with demon red eyes)…teapot…”. The dreamer makes an attempt at normality, but the mind wanders and things start to feel off until a completely bizarre situation is accepted instead. The piece is delightfully strange and weird and only six minutes, which well encapsulates the peculiar nature of these times, but also adds some charm and enjoyment to an otherwise disconcerting phenomenon.
Dream a Little Dream for Me by Emily Laurens can be watched on the National Theatre Wales website every Saturday from the 9th of May.
Georgia Winstone-Cooper is an avid contributor to Wales Arts Review.